(Photo by Nguoi Viet)
The best-known property owner in Little Saigon thought he had his little real estate problem solved, but it may still come back.
The battle is still brewing over a condominium project right off of Bolsa, on Moran Street, named Saigon Villas. Colossal by Little Saigon standard, the complex has 144 units, originally designed for senior housing. It was developed by two limited partnerships, Moran Property L.P. and Asian Garden Ltd. II, and headed by Frank Jiao – better known by Viets as “Triệu Phát” – the same man who developed much of Little Saigon, including the landmark Asian Garden Mall, or “Phước Lộc Thọ.”
With the market in the dumps, the developer successfully got the Westminster City Council to hold an emergency meeting and approve a zoning change that would help it sell faster. Opponents, caught off-guard, were unprepared to oppose the change. But now they’re back, seeking a reversal on the grounds that they were not properly notified.
The people seeking reversal have called a press conference for 9:30am on 12/21 (and the call went out the previous afternoon), to start their campaign.
When the Saigon Villas project was approved and began construction in late 2005, the market, well, ain’t what it is now. Within weeks from when the project was announced, it had sold out. Things were looking good.
Now, according to its detractors, the only reason the Saigon Villas project was allowed to be built as tall as it is, with as many units as it has, squeezed onto the little plot of land that it’s on, is because it was built as a senior-housing project. They say that if it were not designated for senior housing, the project would not be so big, would not have so many units, and would have to have more space around it.
But it was a senior housing project, so it did get to build up to 60 feet tall, and did get to have 144 units. At first, they were all sold. Like that!
And then the market crashed. People who already paid their deposits simply abandoned the money, preferring to lose a few thousands now, than to lose more thousands later.
At the end of the day, only 8 units were sold. The huge behemoth sat empty, with construction loan payments due regularly and no revenue to support them.
Jiao slashed the prices on the condos. A 1 bed, 1 bath unit used to list at $350,000. Now it was selling at $199,000. A 2-bed, 2-bath, 1166sf unit went from $450,000 down to $299,000.
Still, no dice. So, Jiao went to the city, seeking assistance. His staff told the city’s staff that lenders are after them, and if the city doesn’t do something, that big white elephant will be foreclosed on. The threat, with no need to be said out loud, is wholesale blight if that big white elephant is allowed to be seized.
The City Council obliged, voting 5-0 on December 1 to allow a zoning change that lifts the “senior housing” restriction and allow anyone – young, old, families with kids – to buy.
And some people were incensed. Leading the charge to reverse this decision is Minh Nguyen, the owner of ZIP Post, a business across Bolsa and literally in the shadows of Saigon Villas. He saw many things wrong with making Saigon Villas into family-housing condos.
“Where will kids play? What happens when they run into traffic, because there’s nothing between the building and the street?” – Minh said to Nguoi Viet Daily News’s reporter before the December 1 hearing.
To Minh, and others who oppose the zoning change, it looks suspicious that Jiao used “senior housing” to get himself exempt from numerous restrictions on building family housing, and then claimed hardship to get what his detractors suspect are his original intentions in the first place.
The law on which Minh and his allies are relying on to get the decision reversed, is that contrary to legal requirements, he and other businesses in the area did not receive timely written notices. In the packet sent to the media the day before the press conference are copies of hundreds of signed statements by business and home owners, each stating they oppose the zoning change and did not receive notice.
Rumors also flew about backroom deals that may have been made, but so far no solid (or even soft) evidence has emerged. Just rumors.